NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS
Monday, June 27, 2011
As a teenager, I wanted to be an actress and hearing that Columbia University had an excellent drama department, I lied about my age and enrolled in two non-matriculating evening courses—one was Shakespeare presided over by a professor who impressed with her stature and imperial manner. The Bard of Avon’s sonnets and monologues rolled trippingly off her tongue as she gleaned every possible nuance from his words. I’m not sure if my memory serves me correctly or if my imagination is overactive but I think she told us to read the dictionary as well as Shakespeare for knowledge and enjoyment.
I often find myself doing just that. When looking up one word I think would perfectly describe a character or the words that each particular character would use in a specific situation, I lose myself in another word on the page. A word I’ve never seen in a book, magazine or newspaper, a word I’ve never heard spoken or a word that has more than one meaning—a meaning I’m unfamiliar with. When we write we have to find the right words, a hero’s speech would be nothing like a villain’s. Someone from the south uses language in a different way than someone from the west or east. People in different parts of the world will add hand gestures and facial expressions that add a new connotation to their words. Different generations use words in ways we never thought of and often change the meaning of words as we know them—think of the word gay, think of lyrics—standards from the pens of Hammerstein, Porter, Berlin, Mercer and Sondheim and think of rap in today’s world. When we’re children, a mother will explain the meaning of certain words to her child—twenty years later, the grown-up daughter will explain certain words to her mother.
Writers are often told not to use slang—slang dates—every generation invents its own. Words used by flappers in the 1920s—the cat’s pajamas, the bee’s knees, know one’s onions, Jazz age slang—big cheese, bubs, bull, the Great Depression with Apple Annie, New Deal and Hoovervilles, World War II servicemen brought cannon fodder and snafu to America’s attention, and cyberspace as we know it today has friendapalooza, LOL, TTYL and Peeping Tom. Some words once banned from the dictionary have taken root and can be found in the latest editions. I know I’ll keep on reading, and trying to find the right character for certain words that I want to use bearing in mind the warning not to use a dollar word when a ten cent word will do.
Are there words that you are longing to use?
Friday, June 24, 2011
You think I’ll be spending the day slaving over a hot keyboard, don’t you? Well, I won’t. You see, I have a point to prove.
A couple of evenings ago, hubby and I were sitting relaxing. At least, he was relaxing. Me? I suddenly grabbed my iPad, made a couple of notes, and said “What do you think of these for titles?”
He gave me a pained, resigned look and replied “You never switch off, do you?”
I opened my mouth to tell him that I switch off lots of times, like when I take the dogs for long walks. Then I remembered that I use my dog walks for working out plot or character problems in my books.
I opened my mouth again, all set to tell him that I switch off when I’m watching a good film, but then I remembered how he rolls his eyes every time I say something like “that character isn’t very well drawn”, “I’d like more of character X’s viewpoint” or “I’d have chosen a totally different setting…”.
I finally opened my mouth and said “Um, well, no. Not often.”
He has a point. Even when I’m away from the desk, I’m mentally writing, editing, plotting, marketing...
Today, however, I’m determined to show him that I can switch off.
But how? I’ll have to leave the house, obviously. I’ll also have to leave iPad and iPhone at home so I can’t sneak a quick look at Twitter or emails. I’ll repeat to myself every six seconds “I shall not think about books...”. I may go to the beach, but I won’t think about putting a death by drowning in the next book. If I have lunch in a lovely restaurant, I won’t take notes in case I want to include it in the WIP...
It’s going to be a tough day, and I may need lots of glasses of something suitably chilled, but I will switch off.
How about you? Does switching off come easily? If so, please share tips with this woman in need!
(Have a lovely birthday, Marcelle!)
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Angela ; )
Monday, June 20, 2011
ALERTS TO THREATS IN 2011 EUROPE : BY JOHN CLEESE
The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Libya and the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden, and have therefore raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.
The Scots have raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.
The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France 's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.
Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."
The Germans have increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose."
Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels .
The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.
Australia , meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be alright, Mate." Two more escalation levels remain: "Crikey! I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!" and "The barbie is canceled." So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.
-- John Cleese - British writer (of Monty Python fame), actor and tall person
And this sounds just like something Cleese WOULD say, but I haven't spoken with him today so I can't vouch 100% that the above are his words. Still. Quite funny. ~ Have a nice evening, everyone.
Friday, June 17, 2011
I’ve been thinking a lot about the changes that have taken place in my life between those two releases.
Before having On Her Trail accepted by Carina Press, I didn’t know about “blogs.” Not really. I certainly didn’t follow any and I’d never even heard of blog tours. I still don’t have a personal blog—frankly, I don’t see why anyone would want to read my ruminations on anything.
When I was told I really should be on Twitter, my first reaction was, “What the heck is a Twitter?” As for Facebook, that was for kids, wasn’t it? Kids who posted pictures of themselves that would embarrass them later in life?
The thought never even crossed my mind that I should have my own web site (even though as a writing workshop and conference organizer, I *detest* it when the writer I am trying to contact doesn’t have an online presence).
But I was an e-author now. I had to have an electronic presence, even if the thought terrified me. So I took every opportunity and seminar I could (thank you, Carina!) to learn about Twitter, Facebook and blogging. There were times I thought my head would explode. I begged my friend to design and set up a web site for me (remember the quasi Luddite part?). I still don’t understand half of what she did, but I can at least update it on my own.
So here I am a year later, blogging, Tweeting and Facebooking, and the proud owner of a web site. What I learned during this crazy year was that the road to social media is filled with friendly strangers willing to share their knowledge and help a recovering Luddite along the way.
So, thanks, eh. It’s been a heck of a year. Let’s hope my head stays on for the next one.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Nearly all our senses react to strong stimuli like someone threatening us with a weapon. If the protagonist has sweaty hands, a dry mouth, a rapid heartbeat or chills up and down his spine, the reader recognizes these feelings from his own moments of fear.
This works fine in a point of view character, but what if the POV character isn't the one we want to portray as afraid? Then we add the visible cues of fear. We might see the frightened person tremble or widen their eyes. We could hear them gasp or scream or maybe their voice rises to a higher pitch. If we are holding one of their hands, we'd feel it trembling. Some say they smell fear, although I think that's figurative.
Using these techniques and building them to a fevered pitch can create wonderful tension and panic for your reader. And in our line of work, that's what it's all about. When a reader or reviewer says they were terrified during part of my story, I know I've done my job.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Idea 2: change a plot point or re-cast a character.
Idea 3: Aim for 90% effort rather than 100% effort. A study done on runners showed that runners who were coached to aim for 90% effort did better than runners who were told to give it their all.
Idea 4: Find Quick Wins!
With great thanks to my friend and superb m/m author Jordan Castillo Price :).
Friday, June 10, 2011
When I set out to write this blog, I stood at my back patio doors looking outside at my yard. Within moments I noticed movement under the bushes along the fence line. In our neighborhood, even though I live in a large city, we still tend to get several different "critters". Some I don't mind seeing in the yard, some I mind quite a bit. This morning, though, was one of the happier sightings. Coming out of the bushes was a cute little brown and white bunny. There have been several wild rabbits spotted on our street, so the sight of this one wasn't a big surprise. Seeing a second bunny come hopping out behind the first, though, that was a bit more unusual. So standing there with my first cup of coffee in hand, I eased the curtain aside and watched.
The bunnies played in the grass, running and hopping. It looked almost like a dance, a fun game, with one racing toward the other and right as he/she would reach the other rabbit, it would hop straight up in the air and land only to race in the other direction. They did this over and over. Then I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. From under the same bushes as before, another lone figure slowly emerged from the underbrush. Easing forward, slowly, body crouched low to the ground, one step at a time, it paused to look around before focusing on the two young bunnies at play. Slowly it inched forward, step by step drawing closer. The two at play never notice the possibility of danger creeping slowly up behind them. They were having so much fun running along to and fro, hopping up only to run again. They ran through a small hole in the fence, only to race back in seconds later.
With a burst of speed, the third body sprang forward tackling one of the playful rabbits, barreling into it full force. A third bunny had gotten into the yard and wanted to join in the fun. They raced across the patio, oblivious to any sense of danger around. I watched these three bunnies play for a few minutes thinking about how what they were doing was similar to how we write.
We start a story with the two main characters, the hero and villain. As writers we could take then on a straight path from point A to their goal, the villain is foiled, and everybody lives happily ever after. End of story. But where's the fun in that, not just for the writer but for the reader? Instead, like the bunnies, we have them do their dance, running toward each other only to veer away (or hop away as the case may be). We send our characters down rabbit trails, following false clues, making them backtrack and start their dance over again. If we're really creative, we throw in that third person to provide that element of danger, that layering of suspense. Is this the villain? Are they a friend? A lover? We can take it in any direction we want.
Do you have your characters following bunny trails throughout your story? Do your characters do their own special dance, a few steps forward, a hop back? Sometimes, if we take the time to stop and watch the bunnies, following those bunny trails in our stories can be a good thing.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
First of all, let’s do the important stuff – Happy Year and A Day, Carina! Toss the confetti and raise a glass of cyber-champagne for just about the best, most innovative – and nicest to work with – publishing operation in the world! Yea, Carina!!
Okay, now down to work.
I’ll admit, I didn’t know what a paraprosdokian was until a friend sent me a list of them. She’s always sending me jokes and funnies and, I’ll admit, I laughed heartily on reading them. Then the writing brain took over (doesn’t it always?) and I read them again, finally realizing that they were a lesson all in themselves.
By definition, a paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect. Here are a few of the best ones :
-- I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way, so I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.
-- I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.
-- To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
-- A bus station is where a train stops. A railway station is where a train stops. My desk is a work station.
-- You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive more than once.
-- The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas.
-- To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
-- Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
You see what I mean? Each starts out with a statement that gives you an idea – then the second part puts an entirely new spin on the idea, usually turning your perception of it 90 degrees in a different direction. In other words, a turning point.
In real life, with real people, I’ll bet that most of us like a smooth stream – learn, meet, love, prosper, happy every after with no catastrophes or dead bodies or evil villains or whatnot. Such a progression is comforting and happy – and boring, at least from a story point of view. In our books, whether mystery or sci-fi or romance or whatever, we love to torture our characters and that is best done by surprise and change.
The character we trust turns out to be the villain. The safe house isn’t. The clue that proves the hero innocent is false. (See where I’m going?) A single incident pops up and suddenly the entire story is careening off in a different direction. Could we call these ‘plot paraprosdokians?’ Sure – if we can remember that tongue twister of a word! (You’re on your own there.)
Sometimes these plot twists can happen in a single sentence. Or paragraph. Or, in some rare cases, a chapter or more. It depends, as so much does, on the style of the writer and on the story itself, But they must happen, or your story becomes a sweet, linear telling of events that have no excitement, no challenge, and very probably no real interest.
For example, Bob comes home from work and finds a dead body lying in his driveway. He calls the police. The police find he has nothing to do with the body. Bob goes on and lives his life. Snoooooooze! Even though, if I were Bob, that’s what I’d want to happen in real life, but it makes for a boring and unsellable story.
By contrast, Bob comes home from work and finds a dead body lying in his driveway. The body is that of a fraternity brother from his college days, one who ostensibly died in a frat house fire. Also, unbeknownst to Bob, the body was Bob’s new wife’s brother.
See? You can go on and on, turning each plot twist in on itself, each time giving your story more depth and complexity, as well as more danger and higher stakes for your protagonist.
Deepen your plotting – become a practicing paraprosdokianist. I think I just broke my spell-check. Whether you can spell it or not, though it works. Give it a try.
Sunday, June 5, 2011
For my inaugural post on Not Your Usual Suspects, I thought long and hard about what to write. After all, I wish to please. I’m a people-pleaser by nature. And I’m so excited to be a member of this fabulous group of authors. Thus, part of my preparation for this post involved several moments of panic. But once the panic cleared, thinking about this as a “first” had me thinking of other firsts…my first foray into writing, completing my first manuscript, the first time I felt comfortable calling myself a writer.
First steps. They can be such big steps to take. Sometimes the biggest. Sometimes so daunting that a potential writer never begins the journey.
But I’m glad I took those steps. The impetus to write has always been with me. I finally listened to the voices in my head right around the turn of the millennium. I remember picking up the January 2000 issue of Writer’s Digest and feeling like I’d finally found people who “got” me. I didn’t discover RWA until a couple years later (and then I found people who REALLY got me). Until then, my writing “career” involved much babbling and stumbling about, much like a toddler finding her voice and balance.
The kernel that eventually bloomed into my first manuscript came from a thought I had upon awakening one morning. (This was before I had kids, when I could lay in bed thinking for a few precious minutes before I had to rush to meet someone else’s needs.) Of course, that scene ended up buried in the second chapter rather than opening the book, but it gave me a clear look at the characters who’d been talking in my head for a few months now. I still remember that moment. That “ah-ha!” that motivated me to sit down and write my first scene. It was both a thrilling and a daunting task.
I still get a thrill when I sit down to start a new story. That blank paper or screen is full of possibilities. There’s nothing like starting fresh, getting to know my hero and heroine (and villain), and discovering a new plot. Okay, so maybe typing “The End” is a close second.
The beginning of my idea for Only Fear, my fifth manuscript and my first book due out from Carina Press on September 5, 2011, came from a documentary I watched about the Vidocq Society, a group of specialists who meet once a month in Philadelphia to solve crimes. I was fascinated by this concept, and thus my SSAM organization was born. (SSAM is short for Society for the Study of Aberrant Minds, a group of professionals with various specialties who hunt serial killers.)
Beginnings are tough, but so exciting, too. They can be stressful and stimulating. But getting past that first step in the journey is so rewarding.
What beginnings stand out for you and why? Do you remember the first time you had a story idea, or what became of that initial story? What was a memorable first step in your journey?
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
For a long time I didn't tell anyone I was writing novels.
However, for the record, I'm married to a loud Irishman and he'd tell everyone and anyone I was writing books--whether I liked it or not :) The first person he bragged too? A good friend of ours who is a frickin' professional poet--I wanted to evaporate on the spot. He's...enthusiastic (I'm thinking brash) and doesn't understand that writers have delicate egos and sensitive natures.
Yes, I swore. Sorry.
The moment you decide you want to be a published author you cannot afford either a delicate ego or a sensitive nature. You will get tromped over and spat out like last year's...what, last year's what? Christmas turkey? Christmas pudding (no, that lasts forever), last year's failed political candidates.
That is a terrible simile, and you know what? I don't care. Well, I care, but I'm not going to let it eat me alive while I try to think of a better one. Because there comes a point in time when you have to let the words go. And after that, you need to grow skin as thick Kevlar and the sort of unfeeling personality that normally gets people locked up for being narcissistic sociopaths, because otherwise the criticism will destroy you and your creativity.
So IMO, unless you're Lady Gaga and BORN THIS WAY, you need to develop some personal body armor. Because at some point, be it your father-in-law saying you write 'filthy books' during a family luncheon, or getting slayed on a review site, you will get some negative feedback. Not everyone will love everything you write. And, if you want to keep writing, you need to strap on your protection and just smile as you take it.
You can be sensitive beneath the armor, but don't forget to reapply when the arrows start flying.
Excuse the pictures of two of my heroes (my models for STORM WARNING & SEA OF SUSPICION)...here's a third, without armor, Henry Cavill, who I used as my hero pin-up for my next Carina Press story, EDGE OF SURVIVAL. Actually, he looks good even without armor :) Oh, Theseus.
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